DoJ deal will remove disabled from state hospitals

In a landmark settlement with the Justice Department that could serve as a template for other states, Georgia will stop admitting people with developmental disabilities, such as Down syndrome and autism, to state hospitals by July 2011 and transfer all those already in the hospitals to community settings by July 2015, according to the DoJ.

The state must also increase programs--including community treatment, intensive case management and supported housing programs--to serve some 9,000 people with mental illness in community settings. In return, Gov. Sonny Perdue said the state avoided a direct federal takeover of its mental health and developmental disabilities services, the Associated Press reports.

The settlement puts teeth in the Olmstead decision of 1999, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the Americans With Disabilities Act requires states to care for elderly and disabled people "in the most integrated setting appropriate"--which means people should be de-institutionalized and live in the community, when possible.

The case that was resolved Tuesday was triggered by a Justice Department investigation that found that mentally ill people were being inappropriately segregated in state hospitals, and caps another investigation started in 2007 after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution uncovered more than 100 suspicious deaths of patients in state mental hospitals.

The settlement will help the state financially, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said. Right now, Georgia spends an average of $174,000 a year to house someone in a state hospital, but it would cost only $47,000 to provide in-home services to the developmentally disabled, Perez said.

An attorney with the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, which served as a friend of the court on the case, told the Los Angeles Times that the decision marks a big step forward for people with mental illness. "No longer will people be confined in a state hospital who could be living much fuller lives in the community."

To learn more:
- read the U.S. Department of Justice press release
- see the Los Angeles Times article
- read the Associated Press article
- here's the Atlanta Journal-Constitution story